Little skiers

About 25 years ago, we went downhill skiing with (then childless) friends at a Vermont resort, and we parked a dubious four-year-old H in the nursery/ski school for a few hours while we went off to taste the mountain. She hadn’t yet skied downhill, though she’d shuffled around with me on her little touring skis. We were hoping that the elementary lesson she was supposed to get would give her a solid start on this different form of the sport.
It didn’t. We returned to a teary and unhappy little person who wanted more than anything else to blow this stalag, with its fence and its rules and its unfamiliar faces. Away we went, comforting our lovey and carrying her tiny rental skis and boots with us.

We headed straight to the bunny slope in the hopes that we could manufacture a good taste to wash out the bad. The hill happened to have a comical lift as a prop. It looked like a standard chair lift of the era—two seats, attached to an overhead pulley system—but it rode us along the ground.
With my knees near my ears, my skis stayed in the two tracks below, and H’s dangled just off the snow. This in itself gave rise to much merriment and laughter.

At the top of the tiny hill, we jitterbugged around for a while, getting a feel for the snow and these weird stiff boots, gradually working into a star turn or two, and a few experimental uphill snowplows on a very shallow traverse. Then I got H between my firmly wedged skis, and we headed down. She fell, gently but immediately and unhappily, when her skis got ahead of her body. I caught her, and we shifted to parents’ Standard Plan B. I turned around, wedged the tails of my skis, and faced her, holding her hips over her skis. She thought this was very funny, Daddy skiing backward, but she got the right feel of things almost immediately. We did this two or three times, laughing and riding back up on the comical lift, and then she was on her own, stemming in that wonderfully sturdy way small people have. We both have the happiest memories of all this.

So H and I thought it would be a great idea, shortly after I got back from New Zealand, if I took B off for a little time on the local bunny hill. The two of them had had a terrific time a few days before,  and I think both H and I envisioned a sort of reprise of some great fun.

But no.

First of all, B is two-and-a-half—very, very young to be sailing downhill. Second, I’m five or six years older than I was in 1980-whatever, and I haven’t been on downhill skis in over a decade—I had no idea how short and fat they’d become (rather like me). And third, I think we may have hit the poor baby at the wrong part of the fatigue cycle. Excited chatter going up (a more modern surface lift that was essentially a moving walkway), but tears galore going down. I tried frontwards, backwards, a shallower traverse—everything I could think of. No go, and I delivered a profoundly unhappy little person to the bottom of the hill. One run and done. I felt terrible inflicting something so unpleasant on her. Fortunately, chocolate exists in the world and calm was restored, complements of Mr. Hershey.

She floored me, though, when at home she turned to me and said, “We go skiing again tomorrow, M, but this time you no hold my neck so tight.”

Her neck? Needless to say (I hope), I had not been strangling her. I’d held my poles horizontally in front of us for her to hold onto, until I’d turned around and held her by her hips. The best I can figure is that her jacked rucked up in a way that was uncomfortable under her chin. Nonetheless, I sense the birth of a family joke that won’t quit.

To B, “tomorrow” means sometime in the indefinite future, so yes, indeed, we’ll be out there when the New Hampshire hills turn white again. She’ll be three, and able to say, “Grandfather, my outmoded clothing is not suitable for this active pastime, but I noticed the shop carries Patagonia for Kids.” And I’ll be the chubby old guy on the chubby new skis, asking, “What color parka would you like, sweetheart?”

There’s at least something I can still manage on a ski slope.


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